Observations from the international setting at Cruise Europe’s Annual General Meeting in Le Havre last week: The Danes don’t differentiate between the taste of beer in the evening, afternoon or morning, and that is perhaps why they see no harm in sipping on a lager before lunch or shortly after breakfast or even with breakfast — or tipping a bit of Gammel Dansk into their morning coffee. The world’s happiest nation may be happy for a reason.
Stereotypes can be stubbon, and while it is not always advisable or prudent to make generalizations, it is tempting to draw some conclusions when it comes to observing cultures.
It’s safe to assume, for example, that many Swedes will become unsettled and mildy irritated when there is not a proper toast along with the obligatory eye contact before and after the first sip following skål.
Likewise, it’s fairly common knowledge that the Brits take their tea and biscuits; the Americans, their coffee and cake. The Irish joke in a manner that would sometimes benefit from subtitles, so strong is their dialect. The Scots are pragmatic; the French, frivolous (they are simply embodying joie de vivre); the Spaniards, puzzled by such customs as dinner beginning before 11 p.m. Germans can be counted on to always be on time — and often early for dinner.
Dutchmen colonized much of the world and thus feel at home with anyone. Poles and their Baltic neighbors — Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians — are simply glad to have shaken Soviet occupation, some more recently than others.
Finns can be reticent and reserved. Did you hear the joke about the Finnish man who loved his wife so much that he almost told her?
As much as we take comfort in the fact that we are somewhat alike, we are, in fact, very much different.
The fact that we are different is what gives travel its charm. Our senses engage as we confront customs that are foreign to us. For Americans like me, being in Europe is particularly intriguing, because many of us are, in fact, them.
Ten generations ago, John Grizzle (also spelled Grissel) left Europe, landing in America in 1722. Now, nearly three centuries later, I am back in Europe, completing a circle, a foreigner on the soil where my great, great, great (and more) grandfather was born.
Still, even if I am a foreigner, last week in Le Havre, I felt I was with family. Some of us attending the Cruise Europe AGM have known each other — and worked with each other — for decades. While many industries may foster camaraderie, the cruise industry seems to unite cultures worldwide. From France to the Far East to Fort Lauderdale, we work together so that vacationers can achieve what they desire: once-in-a-lifetime experiences delivered to them by ships.
At the Cruise Europe annual general meeting, this past week as in past years, the goal was to improve and expand the European cruise experience. Destination and port representatives joined cruise line executives to forge the future of cruising in Europe.With more than 100 member ports in Northern and Atlantic Europe, Cruise Europe brings a lot of destinations to the table.
Perhaps the biggest issue discussed was the impact of regulation and fuel costs on itinerary planning. Simon Douwes, director deployment and itinerary planning for Holland America Line, told delegates during a morning presentation that his company is slowing down the speed at which ships travel between ports in order to save on fuel costs.
Worldwide, HAL ships will travel 1,401,552 nautical miles in 2013 at an average speed of 16.7 knots, compared to a distance of 1,477,866 nautical miles in 2011 at an average speed of 17.6 knots. The reduction in nautical miles traveled and in fuel savings due to lower speeds are enormous on a fleetwide basis, Douwes told the audience.
He also said that fuel consumption for HAL is highest in Alaska, when calculated on consumption per passenger day. The Baltic comes in second.
One fuel-savings technique is to depart ports earlier than in the past to be able to cruise to the next port at speeds that conserve fuel. On some southern European itineraries, HAL will reduce speeds from an average 15.7 knots in 2012 to 13.8 knots in 2013, some of this achieved by open-jaw itineraries, where passengers embark in one port and disembark in another — as opposed to roundtrip itineraries.
Fuel savings in Europe are important, as HAL sails to “far more ports of call in Europe than anywhere else,” Douwes said. “In 2013, Holland America Line will visit 161 different European ports . . . that’s a huge number.”
Indeed, HAL is extending the season in much of Europe. A decade ago, Baltic Cruises started in mid-June. Today, those cruises begin in mid-April.
Brian Powell, whose title is market planning & consumer insights for Celebrity Cruises, echoed Douwes’ comments about the popularity of Europe as a cruise destination. He told delegates that Celebrity is discovering that among its affluent vacationers, two words are emerging when it comes to what they want to experience, authenticity and trendy.
He encouraged destinations to develop shore excursions that offer these two components, and many already do. One of the challenges for destinations is to inform cruise lines of all that they offer. Cruise Europe provides a good forum for such exchanges.
Europe is poised to overtake North America as the world’s largest source market. From 2006 through 2011, the number of Europeans taking cruises increased by 80 percent. Europe also will overtake the Caribbean as the number-one cruise destination this year, according to Peter Wild, managing director for the consulting firm GP Wild International Ltd.
From my point of view, Europe’s emerging presence in the cruise industry comes as a welcome change, as more and more people will have a chance to see the region on both ocean cruises and river cruises — and to experience the variety of cultures in this wonderful part of the world. Douwes said that Holland America Line would not cruise to 161 European ports “unless we thought it was a very good idea.” Indeed, he added: “The future here is very, very bright.”
That’s a sentiment that all cultures can toast to.